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Heartthrob Affleck almost didn’t get his big break

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PASADENA, Calif. — Ben Affleck is, of course, one of the biggest movie stars in the world. An Oscar-winning co-writer of "Good Will Hunting," Affleck is also the star of "Pearl Harbor" and an undeniable heartthrob.

But he almost didn't get his first big break because a network television executive looked at him and thought he was utterly lacking in appeal.

Back in 1993, Affleck co-starred in the critically acclaimed but short-lived series "Against the Grain," playing a star high school football player. But if then-NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield had had his way, Affleck wouldn't have been on the show at all.

"What Warren Littlefield had said was, 'I just don't ever see this guy on the cover of a magazine,' " said Gary Johnson, a writer on "Against the Grain" (now one of the producers of the Pax series "Doc").

His brother, Dave Alan Johnson, co-created and executive-produced "Against the Grain." And he had to fight tooth and nail to get Affleck on the show. "When we were casting that, the network didn't want him," Gary Johnson said. "They were not going to do it with him. Dave and his partner basically said, 'He's perfect. He's the guy.'"

Not only could Affleck act, but he was the right size for the role — 6-foot-3-inches, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 pounds at the time. And, had the show not been canceled prematurely, the character would have developed into the best football player in the football-crazed Lone Star state.

"And (NBC is) bringing in 5-8, 140-pound guys who you just looked at and said, 'This guy's a good actor. I like him.' But nobody's going to buy that this is the best football player in Texas," Gary Johnson said. "That's what's wrong with sports shows a lot of the time. You get people who can't play or who aren't believable as that person."

The producers of "Against the Grain" and NBC executives were at a stalemate almost until the day filming began on the series. "It went down to the wire and the network finally said, 'Alright, we'll do it,' " Gary Johnson said. And his brother eventually exacted a measure of revenge on Littlefield, the man responsible for almost keeping Affleck off the show (and then quickly canceling it). "Dave sent him the cover of GQ, or whatever, when Ben was on the cover," Gary Johnson said.

As for Affleck, he's returning to network television — sort of. He and his buddy, partner and co-Oscar winner, Matt Damon, are executive producers of the upcoming ABC reality/game show "The Runner." And, since he's been away, Affleck has noted a number of changes in television — most notably the proliferation of channels and the advent of the whole reality genre, which he said has created viewers with "a more finely tuned eye for realism."

"And as a consequence, I think the bar has been raised all the way across for dramas and comedies," Affleck said. "I mean, you still have your standard one-hour dramas. And, probably, 'Against the Grain' would still get made and probably still get canceled after eight episodes."


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com